Brazil resumes publishing coronavirus toll, criticises WHO

People wearing face masks wait at a bus stop in Sao Paulo on June 8, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Brazil's government resumed publishing the country's total death toll from the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday (June 9), after facing accusations of trying to hide the magnitude of its raging health crisis.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's government had stopped publishing the total number of deaths from the new coronavirus on Friday, saying it was adopting a new methodology and would only report the number of deaths recorded in the past 24 hours in its daily bulletin.

That drew accusations of foul play from a long list of high-profile critics, as well as a ruling from Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes on Monday that the government must return to the old format.

The health ministry did so on Tuesday, indicating the death toll had risen by 1,272, to a total of 38,406 people killed by the virus - the third-highest toll in the world, after the United States and Britain.

The ministry said the total number of confirmed infections had risen to 739,503, the second-highest caseload in the world, after the US.

Experts say under-testing means the real numbers in the country of 212 million people are probably much higher.

The health ministry did not immediately respond to questions from AFP on why it returned to the old format and its plans for the future.

Bolsonaro, who famously compared the virus to a "little flu," has railed against the consensus response to the pandemic, saying stay-at-home measures are needlessly wrecking the economy.

He threatened on Friday to quit the World Health Organisation (WHO) over "ideological bias" - criticism echoed on Tuesday by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo.

"The WHO lacks independence, transparency and coherence. The foreign ministry is following its role with great concern," Araujo said.

"We need to look into it. Is it a matter of political influence, is it a matter of non-state actors influencing the WHO?"

Bolsonaro's threat to quit the WHO followed in the footsteps of President Donald Trump, whom he admires, and who withdrew the United States from the organisation last month.

Trump accused the WHO of bias in favour of China, with whom his administration has clashed over the origin and handling of the pandemic.

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